This afternoon, the future of the WCHA playoffs came to light thanks to reporting by Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press and Jack Hittinger of the Bemidji Pioneer. In it, we also may have gotten our first public glimpse into one of the reasons why the NCHC happened.
In two years, after the monumental shift in conferences in Western college hockey, the WCHA will have a nine-team tournament. The top seed will receive a bye to the WCHA Final Five.
The big news, though, is that Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks will play in the first round every year unless one is a top seed.
The league obviously is worried about paying for two Alaska flights (either a team traveling up to Alaska or sending an Alaskan team to the lower 48) on a week’s notice. The postseason tournament is supposed to be the big money-maker for the league and it could end up losing money.
However, the league is throwing the integrity of the tournament out the window in order to save money.
When the NCHC split happened, I wrote this in a Herald piece:
A source told the Herald that when business was conducted in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, there were often times two blocks of voting.
The schools with larger budgets typically wanted to spend money, invest and try new things. Schools with smaller budgets often resisted.
With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing for the Big Ten Hockey Conference, the smaller-budget schools take over control of the voting block. This caused athletic directors with larger budgets to worry about the future of the conference.
-July 10, 2011
The decision to save money with the Alaska schools while potentially creating strange matchups in the first round (UAA or UAF could be on the road as a three seed and if they are both in the bottom half, the five seed will have to travel instead of host) may be the first public look at this scenario. There’s no way athletic directors at UND, Omaha, Denver, etc., would have gone for this.
Was it this specific scenario that the NCHC schools were worried about? No. They didn’t even know Fairbanks would be in the league at the time the left. But it’s scenarios like this that they were worried about.